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WASHINGTON — Every week Native News Online brings you the latest Indian Country news and moves from Washington, D.C. As the nation, including Indian Country, continues to fight back on the Covid-19 Delta variant, Indian Health Service staff will now be required to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Indian Country will benefit from the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Senate that earmarks $11 billion for projects and programs for tribes and other programs serving the Native population.

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Indian Health Service Staff Required to Receive Covid-19 Vaccine

On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Indian Health Service (IHS) staff who serve in federally-operated health care facilities and interact with, or have the potential to have contact with, patients will be required to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

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“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce. And vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from COVID-19, prevent the spread of the Delta variant, and save lives,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “As President Biden has said, we have to do all we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe. Instructing our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers and the patients and people they serve.”

IHS acting director Dr. Elizabeth Fowler released a Special General Memorandum that establishes an Indian Health Service policy requiring IHS staff to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Senate Approves Budget Framework that Calls for $20.5 Spending for Indian Country Programs

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed S.Con.Res.14, a budget framework, by a 50-49 vote that will allocate $20,5 billion in spending for Indian Country programs over the next decade.

“For far too long, historical underfunding of Federal programs serving Native communities and Tribes has left them vulnerable. Today, one in three Native Americans lives in poverty, and just 19 percent of Native American students are attending college. Native Americans have a life expectancy 5 ½ years lower than the general population, and Native Americans are on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said prior to the vote in a speech to the Senate.

Alluding to the $31 billion allocated to Indian Country in the American Rescue Act in March, Sen. Schatz said “we have already made the biggest investment in Native communities in American history, and we are not done yet.”

“The responsibility of the U.S. Government to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians isn’t just for Democrats or Republicans to live up to. It is a commitment that we all share,” Sen. Schatz said.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation to Bring $11 Billion to Indian Country

On Tuesday , the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bill includes $11 billion of funding for federal programs and Native communities to address water and sanitation, transportation, broadband, climate and energy resilience, Indian water settlements, new energy technology, drought mitigation, mine and well cleanup, wildfire mitigation, and ecosystem restoration. 

Senator and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), voiced her support for this bill:

“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a truly historic achievement for all Americans, including American Indian and Alaska Natives. As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I was proud to fight for and champion resources for Native Americans throughout these lengthy negotiations to ensure the Federal government upholds its trust and treaty obligations.”

The investments included in this act are: 

Major Investments in Indian Health Service’s Sanitation Facilities Construction Program – Provides $3.5 billion in technical and financial assistance to American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages through IHS for cooperative development and construction of safe water, wastewater, and solid waste systems and related support facilities. This unprecedented investment in IHS sanitation will clear all known project needs.

Funds Congressionally Authorized Indian Water Settlements – Provides $2.5 billion to fund the remaining portions of the authorized discretionary funding for congressionally approved Indian water settlements. The federal government is involved in Indian water settlements pursuant to its trust responsibilities.  Funding these settlements will allow tribes to pursue authorized projects to access and develop their water resources.

Building Climate Change Resilience in Native Communities – Provides $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Climate Resilience Program for adaptation project planning and development and community relocation for tribes contending with climate change impacts.  

Connecting Indian Communities by Investing in Rural Broadband – Provides an additional $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and extends the expenditure deadline. Creates a $1 billion Middle Mile program for the construction, improvement or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure. The Middle Mile program includes a process for designating tribally unserved or underserved areas in consultation with tribes and Native entities.

Cleaning Up Orphan and Legacy Wells – Directs funds to the Department of the Interior to clean up orphan wells on public lands and legacy wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and to fund state grants for cleanup of wells on state and private lands. This includes over $2 billion for State grants, $250 million for federal lands, and $150 million for a new grant program to help tribes cleanup orphan wells. Across the country, over 56,000 documented orphaned oil and gas wells can leak methane, contaminate groundwater and create other safety risks. 

Reducing Wildfire Risk and Enhancing Native Communities – Investments through hazardous fuel reduction projects, forest restoration and community defense grants to reduce wildfire risks, provide firefighter training to Native Village crews, Native Youth Public Land Corps and other programs focused on ecosystem restoration and tribal protection. 

Investments in BIA Irrigation, Power, and Sanitation – Includes $250 million for construction, repair, improvement, and maintenance of irrigation and power systems, safety of dams, water sanitation, and other facilities.

Tribal Transportation Investments – Includes $2.9 billion for the Tribal Transportation Program, $110 million for the Tribal Transportation Facility Bridge set-aside, allows 100 percent federal share for tribal projects in the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Programs, reinstates and provides funding for the Tribal High Priority Projects program at $30 million a year for a total of $150 million, increases the set-aside amount for the Tribal Transportation Program Safety Fund from 2 percent to 4 percent, and expedited environmental review for tribal transportation safety projects.

HHS Sets Two Tribal Consultation Sessions for Mandatory Funding Approaches for the Indian Health Service

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) informed tribal leaders in a letter to inform them two tribal consultation sessions will be held to hear their recommendations for mandatory funding approaches for the Indian Health Service (IHS).

HHS is interested to hear from tribal leaders on the leaders on the following three questions:

1.    What is the appropriate funding level for a mandatory funding proposal?

2.    What is the appropriate growth pattern for a mandatory funding proposal?

3.    What is the appropriate appropriations structure for a mandatory funding proposal?

The scheduled consultation sessions are:

Session 1

Wednesday, August 25

1pm – 4pm (EDT)

Zoom Link

Meeting ID: 161 948 6752

One tap mobile:

+16692545252, 1619486752# US

+16692161590, 1619486752# US

Session 2

Wednesday, September 1

2pm – 5pm (EDT)

Zoom Link

Meeting ID: 161 045 0106

+16692545252, 1610450106# US

+16692161590, 1610450106# US

Comments are accepted by email at [email protected] until September 3, 2021.

National Indian Gaming Commission to Release Fiscal Year 2020 Gaming Revenue on Tuesday

The National Indian Gaming Commission, based in Washington, D.C., announced Indian gaming’s 2020 gross gaming revenue will be released on Tuesday, August 17.

The 2020 gross gaming revenue will reflect the impact of the unprecedented voluntary closure of Indian gaming casinos during the Covid-19 pandemic. The revenue report will be announced by National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer and Vice Chair Jeannie Hovland during the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Conference and Trade Show scheduled to take place at the Oklahoma City Convention Center located in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Training Symposium on Missing or Murdered Indigenous People 

 The Department of Justice, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Health and Human Services are putting on a training symposium for those who are interested to learn about the various issues that plague Native communities. This symposium is part of the Federal Government’s efforts to protect Native communities from violence, abuse and exploitation. This webinar is completely free for those who want to participate, and it will cover topics like data collection, victim advocacy, creating a community strategy for addressing missing persons, and working collaboratively across jurisdictions. It is a three-day long symposium and will be hosted via Webex. 

The dates and itinerary are as follows:

Tuesday, September 14, 2021: 1:30 - 5:15 p.m. EDT

  • Overview of the National Indian Country Training Initiative and Operation Lady Justice
  • Data about MMIP: What We Know and What We Don’t (Part 1)
  • Data about MMIP: What We Know and What We Don’t (Part 2)

Wednesday, September 15, 2021: 1:30 - 5:15 p.m. EDT

  • Breakout Session 1A: Developing Tribal Community Response Plans for Missing Person Cases
  • Breakout Session 1B: Youth Vulnerabilities
  • Breakout Session 2A: Investigator’s Panel
  • Breakout Session 2B: Victim and Family Services

Thursday, September 16, 2021: 1:30 - 5:15 p.m. EDT

  • Breakout Session 3A: State-Based Resources
  • Breakout Session 3B: Alerts
  • The Future of MMIP Work

To register for this symposium, click this link. Make sure to check the box of each date you would like to attend, and if you would like to attend all dates, check the box to the left of “Date & Time”. When the boxes are checked, click the [Register] button and then complete the registration survey that will follow completely. Then submit. 

Any questions should be sent to [email protected] or  [email protected]

Neely Bardwell, a Michigan State University student who is interning with Native News Online, contributed to these briefs. 

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Author: Native News Online Staff